Sunday, October 03, 2010

Reading Update

Book #55 of 2010 was The Opposite of Fate: Memories of a Writing Life, by Amy Tan. I have read and enjoyed most of Tan's novels, and I liked this book of personal essays as well. I was hooked from the first essay, in which she mocks the Cliff Notes edition of her most well-known novel, The Joy Luck Club.
In page after chilling page, I saw that my book had been hacked apart, autopsied, and permanently embalmed into chapter-by-chapter blow-by-blows; plot summaries, genealogy charts, and - ai-ya! - even Chinese horoscopes. Further in, I was impressed to learn of all the clever nuances I'd apparently embedded into the phrase "invisible strength," which is what a mother in the book taught her chess-playing daughter, Waverly. According to Cliff, I meant for "invisible strength" to refer to the "human will," as well as to represent "female power" and the "power of foreigners." It was amazing what I had accomplished.
Another great quote from this very quotable book:
Writing to me is an act of faith, a hope that I will discover what I mean by truth. But I don't know what that will be until I finish. I can't determine it ahead of time. ... I also think of reading as an act of faith, a hope I will discover something remarkable about ordinary life, about myself. And if the writer and the reader discover the same thing, if they have that connection, the act of faith has resulted in an act of magic. To me, that is the mystery and the wonder of both life and fiction - the connection between two unique individuals who discover in the end that they are more the same than they are different. And if that doesn't happen, it's nobody's fault. There are still plenty of other books on the shelf to choose from.

It didn't really happen for me with the next book, #56, Missing Mom, by Joyce Carol Oates. I don't think I had ever read anything by Joyce Carol Oates, who according to the book, had written 39 novels before this one (and this one was published in 2005). How could I never have read one of her books? I was determined to finish this, even though it didn't really grab me. It was full of believable characters, but the subject matter (a daughter mourning for her mother, who has died in horrible circumstances) was depressing and I kept putting it aside to read magazines instead. Today I was home sick in bed, and forced myself to get to the end.

Oh well. "There are still plenty of other books on the shelf to choose from."

This post is linked to the October 16th edition of the Saturday Review of Books.


Janet said...

Lewis wrote something like what Tan said, but I can't remember it exactly -- something like, "Some of the meanings people have seen in my books are so ingenius I wish I'd thought of them myself."

I had the same response to the one JC Oates novel I read. Glad to know I'm not the only one.

Sandy said...

I've had the same response to JC Oates also. I wanted to like her writing but it just didn't engage me. I am not sure why.